A new era of ASU football will commence in Tempe this Saturday, and with it brings hope, excitement, and a sense of cautious optimism for fans due to a lot of inexperience stepping on this team. New Head Coach Herm Edwards took over the reins in December of last year amid a national backlash of naysayers doubting his ability to assemble a staff that can ultimately elevate the program beyond consistent mediocrity. However, all accounts from knowledgeable Spring and Fall camp observers have been positive and contradict the notion that Coach Edwards has been away from coaching too long to be successful.
Saturday’s game against the Roadrunners of UTSA will be an important testing ground for shaking out the depth chart at several positions. The Devils do not have the luxury of extended time or multiple games before no. 11 Michigan State invades the desert next week. Although the cupboards were not left bare of talent for this staff, there are areas of inexperience forcing an accelerated timeframe for that talent to be realized. We are going to examine a few key positions on both sides of the ball as ASU’s depth chart battles wage forward.
This group returns starters at most positions and may be relied upon to win the proverbial “shoot out”, high-scoring games.
I expect him to turn heads with his speed and elusiveness in the open field.
Eno has the skill and physique of an every-down player and will undoubtedly be the feature back to start the season. Other newcomers have shown flashes of ability in camp. Redshirt Sophomore Isaiah Floyd is a diminutive player at only 169 pounds and probably qualifies as the “Scat Back” electric runner that has been absent from ASU rosters in recent years. I expect him to turn heads with his speed and elusiveness in the open field.
Fall 2018 I’ll be back to give you the summary.
— EB3™️ (@eno_benjamin5) January 10, 2018
True freshmen Brock Sturges and A.J. Carter are bruising runners that may be counted on during short-yardage and goal-line situations. If either or both of their redshirts are burned, one of these runners may separate themselves with a good showing on Saturday.
There is lots of talent in the running back stable, however, mistakes due to inexperience at this level could prove costly if this group can’t establish the ground game. The question is can they force defenses to be honest and free up the expected aerial assault that ASU brings to the table. That brings us to our next position to watch.
Tucker passes the eye test and has all of the athletic ability of someone who was rated as the #5 Left Tackle nationally
With the lack of quarterback depth on the current roster, it will be imperative to protect Manny Wilkins’ blind side if this high-powered offense is to be effective this season. Tucker passes the eye test and has all of the athletic ability of someone who was rated as the #5 Left Tackle nationally coming out of high school. The litmus test will be whether or not Tucker can handle speed rushes on the outside. Will there be any residual rust from the injuries which have sidelined him for a year and a half?
— Tresa Tudrick (@tresatudrick) August 30, 2018
There are several more unknowns on this side of the ball. New Defensive Coordinator Danny Gonzalez inherits a talented, athletic, and inexperienced group.
Last season’s leading tacklers, DJ Calhoun and Christian Sam, will be missed. In their place come two highly-regarded true freshmen, Merlin Robertson and Darien Butler. Again, inexperience at this level can be a back-breaker for a defense looking to rebound from multiple years of sub-par performances.
We will be keeping a close eye on the rotation of players in this group. The depth chart here is clearly in flux and may not be sorted out any time soon. An important variable is the suspension of senior incumbent Linebacker JJ Wilson who was previously projected as a starter.
Shoring up what has been a very porous pass defense is priority one for Coach Gonzalez. With both Cornerback spots seemingly locked up, the attention will fall squarely on the Safety position, now referred to as the Ranger and the Tillman. Gonzalez has stated that he expects mistakes due to inexperience and adjusting to a new scheme. Those have to be addressed in ASU’s first three games because next comes several pass-happy Pac-12 opponents.
There is some experience at the Tillman Safety with Evan Fields and Das TautalTasi, but the transition of Jalen Harvey from Receiver will be an intriguing move heading into his Senior season. The pass coverage and run support responsibilities for the Tillman are daunting. This position requires a diverse skill set, and the battle for snaps could continue through several games.
The Ranger Safety will be under a microscope as he will be tasked with preventing the big pass plays over the middle. The staff is leaning on senior team captain DeMonte King to build upon his performance last season.
As with any successful pass defense, it all starts with pressure on the Quarterback. A formidable and relentless pass rush will be the catalyst for changing the recent tide for ASU’s defensive backfield.
There are several storylines to follow heading into the match-up with the UTSA Roadrunners. I’m anxious to see if some important questions are answered Saturday night at Sun Devil Stadium.